The Back To School Post.

This is the time of year where most of the people in my ministry, parents and teens alike, are focused on heading back to school. A lot of my conversations with teens revolve around preparing for the start of a new year, and laying a foundation for healthy, balanced growth. Here are a few things I like to share, divided up by grade/age group.

To parents:

Put the big rocks first. If you feel the faith development of your child is a priority, make it a priority. Often, that means putting church on the calendar first before extra curricular activities. It may mean saying no to other activities that are more ‘fun’ or ‘college-friendly’. Your kids will find a way to have fun; over-scheduling their lives is not the way to achieve that goal. Also, many colleges like seeing a well-balanced applicant, and “this teen has consistently been a great leader in our youth ministry” looks awesome on a college application. Either way, sending your kid off to college with a solid faith should be priority number one.

Tweens:

Heading into Jr High may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Right now is a great time to decide how you are going to make and keep friendships. Be kind to people, watch out for those who are being made fun of, and don’t worry too much about being ‘different’ (embrace it!). If you need any help on how to treat people, now is a good time to read up on how Jesus treated those around him.

Jr High kiddos:

You’ve got a ton of energy, and the instinct will be to move first and think things through later. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do or say, and ask yourself, “is this right?”. You should have a pretty good handle on that by now. And for those situations that you don’t know, or have made a mistake, own up quickly and take the chance to learn. The consequences for learning these tough lessons without serious ramifications is going to run out soon. Start praying on your own, without a prompt from your parents or YM. Taking the time to pray is often the exact type of slowing down that you’ll need to make wise decisions. And if you need help, ask.

9th graders:

It’s okay to be a little overwhelmed by High School. The workload is tougher, the expectations are higher, and there’s this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing going on the whole time. Take time to play, and take time to be still. Our culture has a set of expectations for high school that are propped up by Hollywood. Very few of them are true, and you don’t have to fit into their stereotypes. Your true identity is found in your faith, so give your faith some exercise… daily. The basis of your friendships will likely change from proximity to deeply shared beliefs. Develop your beliefs, speak about them, and learn how to share them with others without demeaning others. Read Romans a few times and let it challenge you and help you figure out who you are.

10th and 11th graders:

Your parents love you. Remember that.

You’ve figured out that High School is so much more than what you learn in class. Congratulations. You’ve probably also started to narrow down your interests to a few things, which is great. Dive into your hobbies and passions, they may be the key to finding a career that you’ll love later on in life. Yes, decisions you’re making now may affect the rest of your life. Try not to stress out about that too much, focus on making good decisions today. Jesus himself said that every day has enough worries of its own, and there’s a good chance that you’re right in the middle of that statement. The cool thing is, when you focus on making wise decisions on a daily basis, the days start to add up to a lifetime of wisdom. Draw that wisdom from God and you’ll navigate whatever the next few years throw at you.

Treat homework like a job. The more homework you do now, that more that will pay off, financially and from a discipline standpoint. I once estimated how many hours I spent doing homework, and how much money I received in college scholarships, and figured that I made about $15/hour. That was back in the 90’s. And not taking into consideration how much I would have saved paying off interest on student loans. The bottom line: put your work in now, it pays off later. But don’t break yourself in the name of good grades. Good habits > good grades. That means spending time on your faith too. It also means going outside and playing every once in a while. That’s right, it’s still okay to be a kid once in a while.

Seniors:

Congrats on being at the top of the food chain! (don’t laugh college kids, they’ll know soon enough). This will be the year that will bring the most temptations to check out of church. Don’t. Your presence and maturity can be a huge blessing to the younger crew, even on the toughest of days. You know your right from wrong, and it’s time to lead others. Wether that’s serving in the children’s wing, or just providing a good example for those a few years behind you, you have a unique opportunity to bless others.

Don’t get caught up in the pressures of your Senior year. Academically, you should know that the work load is going to be difficult. You’ve probably also figured out how to balance that work load with the rest of life. There’s this amazing word ‘no’ that you’ll have to use with your friends every once in a while. Fear of missing out is real, but don’t fall victim to FOMO. Nobody can say yes to every opportunity that comes their way and survive. No, not even the busiest of your friends can do it all.

Start up on the search for college as soon as you can. Figure out how you’re going to search for colleges. (Here’s my post on how to tackle this beast.) Set aside time with your parents (they’re the ones that still feed you when you check in at home every once in a while) to talk college, or whatever plans you have for after high school. Treat your college search like a job and make progress weekly, so you’re not overwhelmed when all of your Senior projects are due the same time as your applications.

College freshmen:

Find a church home. Plug in. Serve. Say yes to what you can, and don’t regret saying no to things that you can’t do. Make friends with people who bless your life, and avoid those who only add drama. Take the time to re-adjust who you are. You’ve got the opportunity to start over and learn from your high school mistakes. Do it.

Don’t get any tattoos. As much as you’ve changed since you were 12… that much change is about to happen in the next few years. And then it’ll happen again around the time you graduate. Seriously, this is the worse time in your life to get a tattoo. If your idea survives the next few years, get it then.

You may notice that your parents may not seem as smart as they once were. You’re wrong. They’re about to become geniuses. Be sure to thank them every time you come home with truckloads of laundry, and sleep for days on end.

Take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way. The world loves to help someone who is actively working hard to make their life better. That ends once you graduate and you’re another person looking for a job.

Most importantly, remember your faith, and put it into action. That whole serving part I mentioned before… it’s the best way to grow your faith. Putting your faith into action is putting flesh onto your beliefs, and will make the words of Jesus pop off the pages like never before. You’re at the cross section of life where energy and opportunity intersect, and God has amazing things for you to do in His name.

One love, one heart.

I was just thinking about you…

Today marks seven years since the passing of my youth minister, John Austin Smith. It’s a bittersweet day for those of us who knew him, because the memories of joy, deep conversation and massive bear hugs associated with him are in stark contrast to the feelings of sadness that comes from missing our dear friend. I suppose as always the best place to find peace is in the comfort of knowing that he is in the full presence of our Lord, whom he served so openly, and with complete abandon.

When people ask why I got into youth ministry, I often joke that its part of a penance program for what I did to my old youth minister. The truth is, John called all of us into ministry in different ways. He serves as a constant reminder of what it looks like when we completely give our hearts over to Christ, and look for ways to constantly and creatively love our neighbors in a powerful way.

Today, that’s what I’m missing most about John Austin, I miss deep conversations about things that matter to the soul. I miss hearing him laugh, and I miss the way that he would articulate Godly wisdom in a way that provide the push that we needed to hear.

I wish that my current youth ministry could meet him, and hear his crazy stories. I wish that the young man at our church who is named after John Austin could meet the man behind the stories. I wish that he could have met my wife, and bless her with the kind words I grew up with. As with so many of our fallen friends, I wish that we could have that one more conversation.

So tonight, a group of us will gather in his honor. We’ll catch up, share stories, pictures and jokes from back in the day. We’ll spend most of our time laughing, and enjoying being in the presence of friends, because that’s how we want to remember our John Austin Smith. My prayer is that we also search our hearts for the presence of Christ, and fully embrace living from that place where he lived, in a way that he lived, and for whom he lived.

One love, one heart.

Ramblings: The Super Bowl, Hot Tamales, and Leadership Development.

The whole aftermath of the Super Bowl focusing on Cam Newton would make me really mad if I was a Broncos fan. Manning is the sentimental story, this moment should be about him riding off into the sunset. And about dropping Budweiser and God both into his post-game speech.

The real story of the Super Bowl should be Von Miller. Yikes. All of the sudden I don’t feel so bad about the Charger losing a couple of games to Broncos this season. Miller is a beast, and I’m glad he got MVP.

The advertising background in me always gets excited to see what the best and brightest come up with for the big game, so this year was an overall letdown. What a waste of Anthony Hopkins selling out. I’m guessing ad agency talent is being directed somewhere else besides tv commercials at this point.

The whole Chargers thing is a mess. Committing to another year in SD the same day they sign an agreement with the Rams ownership is like telling your girlfriend you want to stay together right after signing a lease on a new place with someone else.

I’ve been pretty vocal about how much of a tool Spanos has been in this mess, but make no mistake, the city of San Diego needs to share in the blame. Both sides have shown little regards for the people of San Diego, and one side is going to end up looking like a hero if the Chargers do manage to stay.

Buying new tires may be on of the most frustrating car maintenance purchases. Normally, something that expensive means it’s too complicated to understand if you’re not a mechanic. Tires go in circles, it’s pretty easy.

I can’t wait for baseball season. I know the Padres are in unofficial rebuilding mode, so my expectations aren’t that high. Hopefully this will make the season that much easier to enjoy. Also, we have the All-Star Game this year. I went in 92 and have plans to go this year as well. Stoked doesn’t begin to describe my excitement for those festivities.

What kind of 7-11 doesn’t carry Hot Tamales?

Pacystace and I have found ourselves really interested in the People vs OJ series. I can’t begin to explain why. I didn’t realize that we have that trial to blame for the groundwork of the Kardashian family mess taking over pop culture. Now I don’t like OJ even more.

I’ve been listening to a lot of indie-punk lately. Everything from late 90’s Piebald to the latest Prawn album. There’s something so appealing to about listening to music that could have been written by the guys in the garage next door.

90’s Ska/Punk is still king of my iTunes though.

A couple of weeks ago our staff did some leadership development training with Eric Metcalf from Community Christian Church based out of Chicago. One of the big takeaways for the process of developing leaders was the three-step process of: Identify potential, give a task to complete, then give something that stretches abilities. Seems so simple, but I can see where I, and other leaders could easily skip one of those. If you miss out on identifying abilities, you assign the wrong things to the wrong people and it won’t stick. Not giving an initial task can cause someone to be overwhelmed by going immediately to something over their head. Not stretching someone leads to complacency and boredom.

Instagram is making it easier to switch between multiple accounts. That’s actually been my only frustration with app. I’m declaring them the winner in social media outlet of choice (sorry friendster). Representing a few distinct entities (church, camp, myself) got a whole lot easier to keep separate. Now, if they would go back to only square photos.

Undercover Boss: Kylo Ren may be the funniest SNL video short of the 2010’s.

One love, one heart.

Maximalism and the art of the New Year’s Resolution.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about new year’s resolutions. While the beginning of the calendar year seems like a great excuse to embark on something new, or create a new discipline to follow, I’ve often fallen into the trap of feeling burdened by new resolutions. Looking back on previous years’ resolutions, especially the ones that were not fulfilled, it seems like one of the common threads was this idea that I had to add something to my life.

Back in the 1970’s a new style of art was birthed out of a response to the minimalism movement. Maximalism artists started to operate under the axiom of ‘more is more’, trying to jam pack every square inch of canvas, fabric, space with as much visual eye candy as possible. Simple gave way to complex for the sake of complexity. Layers begat layers, and soon a whole movement was born trying to fill up space with as much design as possible. This movement wan’t about filling space with patterns, but micro images that created a macro work that visually overwhelmed the eye.

I feel like many of the new years resolutions I’ve declared in past years have focused on adding something to my life, wether it’s working out, daily study, or spending more time (fill in the blank). This year I decided to mix things up and approach this opportunity of seasonal based change from a different perspective and remove things from life. I don’t have a set list of things to remove, but am focusing more on the principle of ‘does this need to be here’ when it comes to my time, thoughts, and usage of energy.

My inspiration for this approach comes from a Bible study I started a while back, comparing the numerous laws of the Old Testament to the teaching of Jesus. While many of the ancient laws work congruously within the framework of Christ’s teachings, I find that the words of Jesus tend to simplify the intent of the law into a much more meaningful way of life. Instead of focusing on the minutia of the law, focusing on a way of life seems to affect change from within.

So this year in an attempt not to be overwhelmed by laws and systems that govern my time and energy, and tend to create frustration when measured against the calendar, I’m looking to remove the unnecessary things that add complexity to my life. Discarding new goals in exchange for classic principles, finding comfort in the minimal, and avoiding the maximal.

One love, one heart.

v3.0

Hola blogworld, I’m back! For all both of you that missed me I’ve been taking the past few months to go back and re-read my entire blog history from start to finish. I felt like I was in a slump on the ol dot com so I decided to trace back my blogging roots and seek some inspiration. Along the way I made the decision to switch over to a wordpress platform which was long overdue, and since Apple is no longer updating iWeb, now necessary. What I’m losing in ability to create my own minimal design I’m picking up in ability to read on mobile devices, searchable archives, categories, and scheduled posts. That last one is the biggie, since I typically like to write a lot at once, I can now schedule posts so I’m not putting out 5 at once then going months without fresh stuff (not that it would ever happen. again). Don’t worry though, my grammar and spelling will remain terrible.

So going back and reading your own journal, ahem, I mean blog, is a pretty interesting little adventure. It’s fun and somewhat enlightening to go back and see what has stayed important over the years, and see what got left behind. What’s really interesting to see is how the big questions got answered. For example, I first started blogging right before I got my first full time ministry gig, and it’s really crazy to read about what I thought a youth ministry should look like compared to now, knowing how bad those ideas fell flat. Well, some of them. It’s also interesting to see how close I was to figuring out Lost in the first season.

Another big observation was how impersonal the ol blog got as the years went on. Evidently posting up about the girls you’ve dated when you know they can easily read said post is a pretty big inhibitor. No mas! In fact, my first series of posts are entitled ‘The Single Life’ filled with the little details that have been missing over the past few years. Don’t worry, the next incarnation of the blog probably won’t read like Dashboard Confessional lyrics, but they should catch all both of you up on how I’ve successfully managed to embarrass myself in the dating game for a while, and answer that all important, “how are you still single?” question. Think ‘How I met Your Mother’ without every post beginning, “Kids, in the summer of 2009…”.

Also, the ministry oriented posts should be easier to spot so that my ministry fan can read those posts in peace without having to put up with personal nonsense. Now that NVC is up off the ground (another scheduled post) it’s a lot easier to go back and put together details that will hopefully benefit mi amigos in the ministry life. At the very least it should provide a pretty good checklist of what not to do.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m looking forward to increased interaction with the new blog (another wordpress benefit: notifications when all both of my readers respond) and some back-and-forth with you, the reader.

as always,

One love, one heart!